Australian crop development gets vital global injection

The system established to tap into elite grain germplasm from around the world is to extend to durum and barley

Key points

  • The GRDC has helped establish a system – the CAIGE program – to fast track access to the elite bread wheat germplasm developed by two international agricultural research centres
  • The CAIGE program has been extended to include durum wheat and barley this year

Every year Australia receives a special shipment – packets of seed sent from two international research centres that form part of the world’s foremost defence against catastrophic crop failures.

The packets contain bread wheat germplasm containing advanced traits especially developed to overcome major production constraints.

The deliveries come under an International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) program called CAIGE – the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation program – under which Australian breeders have access to the full array of the world’s genetic resources and breeding programs.

Photo of a small group walking

Each year CAIGE project leader Richard Trethowan (right) leads a tour by Australian, CIMMYT and ICARDA breeders of nine field trial sites across the Australian wheatbelt.

 PHOTOS: Dr Gio Braidotti

The GRDC was instrumental in establishing the CAIGE program, which has been so well received by industry that it is to be expanded to durum and barley.

“The barley program will differ slightly from the established wheat program in one key regard,” Dr Dieters says. “For wheat, only elite material is imported from CIMMYT and ICARDA, whereas with barley all the material will come from ICARDA. And in addition to elite lines we are also importing landraces.”

The landraces are selected using a method that increases the likelihood of discovering important traits. The method is called focused identification of germplasm strategy (FIGS) and its development was funded by the GRDC.

FIGS changes the way genebanks are searched. The premise is that the conditions under which plants evolved predisposed them to acquire particular adaptations. This can include resistance to prevalent pests or diseases and environmental conditions such as heat, drought or frost. 

By cross-referencing accessions in ICARDA’s genebank with geographical and climatic data, FIGS was used to select plant material most likely to contain adaptations to conditions important to Australian barley breeders.

Photo of man poised to speak

Richard Trethowan from the University of Sydney is the director of the Narrabri Plant Breeding Institute and also heads the CAIGE program.

“For CAIGE, FIGS was used to target material likely to contain disease, heat and drought tolerance,” Dr Dieters says. “The subset imported into Australia will already have undergone extensive testing for the targeted traits by ICARDA, with a selection of the best material sent on to us.”

Another key part of the project is that representatives from Australian breeding companies will have the opportunity to be involved in selection of elite material from ICARDA’s international nurseries.

“We also have exchange visits scheduled, the same as we do with wheat,” Dr Dieters says. “In every second year, ICARDA breeders will visit and tour the field sites in Australia while in the alternate years, representatives from barley breeding programs will visit ICARDA advanced yield trials to select promising breeding lines.”

Interested parties are also invited to attend the inaugural meeting of the steering committee for barley-CAIGE. This is scheduled to take place at the 16th Australian Barley Technical Symposium to be held in Melbourne at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins from 8 to 11 September 2013.

Update on the CAIGE wheat program

Australia is the only place in the world where International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) elite bread wheat germplasm is tested side by side in the same trials.

Yield data from the 2012 wheat-CAIGE program has been analysed by Dr Mark Dieters.

Material was included from CIMMYT’s Elite Spring Wheat Yield Trial and the CIMMYT Arid Wheat Yield Trial, plus a subset of selected lines from ICARDA’s international nursery.

“The centres breed for a lot of different traits,” Dr Dieters says. “For example, CIMMYT has about 21 different diseases they target in their resistance breeding work. But there are also agronomic traits on top of yield and quality.”

Normally there are about eight Australian CAIGE trials, but 2012 was unusual, with only three sites producing yield data, primarily due to problems increasing seed in 2011.

“Typically, because of the different regions where the international breeding work is done, the general view was that the CIMMYT material was more suited to the northern region and ICARDA material to southern and western Australia since ICARDA breeds for a Mediterranean climate,” Dr Dieters says.

“But what we found across the three years we’ve imported materials from both centres is that the situation is not quite that simple. We have been finding high-performing lines from both centres across sites.”

There are eight CAIGE yield trials being conducted for bread wheat in 2013:

  • Narrabri, NSW – run by Australian Grain Technologies (AGT);
  • Roseworthy, South Australia – run by AGT;
  • Horsham, Victoria – run by AGT;
  • North Star, NSW – run by AGT;
  • Junee, NSW – run by LongReach;
  • Yorke Peninsula, SA – run by LongReach;
  • Mukinbudin, Western Australia – run by InterGrain; and
  • Toodyay, WA – run by Edstar Genetics.

The Australian varieties selected for inclusion in the 2013 yield trials are YitpiPBR logo, AxePBR logo, GladiusPBR logo, LivingstonPBR logo, LongReach CrusaderPBR logo, EGA GregoryPBR logo, MagentaPBR logo, MacePBR logo, LongReach ScoutPBR logo, Emu RockPBR logo (replacing WyalkatchemPBR logo) and SuntopPBR logo (replacing LongReach LincolnPBR logo).

The annual yield trial tour will take place in October, with CIMMYT breeder Dr Ravi Singh and ICARDA breeder Dr Tadesse Wuletaw confirmed to join the tour.

All members of the Australian breeding community are welcome to join the tour.

All CAIGE data is available with no restrictions at the CAIGE website (

More information:

Dr Mark Dieters, 

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GRDC Project Code UQ0043, US00045

Region National, Overseas, North